Science // Jan 4, 2018
Cajun Country to FieldView - The Journey of a Geospatial Guru
When I started at The Climate Corporation more than two years ago, I never expected my passion for our mission and the innovation we are building to explode so quickly. My passion is driven by the influence we are driving in the agriculture industry through our unrivaled research programs and heavily-adopted app, Climate FieldView™.
My story began in south Louisiana, where I was raised in the heart of Cajun Country. Whether it was sugarcane and rice or shrimp boats and crawfish ponds, everywhere I turned I could see the impact that food production had on the landscape and economy of the region. This early appreciation for the environment was reinforced by my grandfather in Louisiana and led to a series of compounding events that piqued my interest in environmental sustainability.
The first of these waypoints was overseas at The American School in London where I was able to focus my high school studies on ecology, environmental science and cultural geography. This study led me to the rainforest of the Darien Gap region of Panama where I spent weeks with the Kuna Indians. I studied the Kuna’s interaction with the rainforest and how they grew coconuts and bananas. As fate would have it, on this expedition, I was tasked with navigating via maps and GPS as well as taking soil samples. I definitely underestimated the influence this trip would have on my life moving forward!
What I failed to understand on this journey was that I had stumbled upon agronomy and geography, the two fields of study which would dominate my education while attending Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I worked for the state soil testing lab and soil taxonomy lab through my undergraduate degree in Environmental Management Systems, which influenced my decision to pursue a Master's degree in Agronomy with a heavy focus on the spatial variability of soil features and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
After four years of working as a GIS specialist, my home state of Louisiana was forever impacted by Hurricane Katrina. I had a strong desire to help my community recover from this disaster, which pushed me back to school to pursue my Ph.D. in Geography and Disaster Science. My research and studies revealed to me that after all of these years and schoolwork, I was becoming a Geospatial Scientist. Since that significant point in my career, it has been an exciting journey through the geospatial and remote sensing industry with stops in coastal restoration, disaster response, intelligence, special operations and most recently, agriculture.
Leveraging traditional remote sensing techniques along with advanced machine learning, spatial modeling and cloud computing technology, we are unlocking unprecedented insights about farming that were previously difficult to identify or simply unknown.
A little over two years ago I made my way to The Climate Corporation, allowing me to come full circle and, once again, work with geospatial technology, agronomy and best of all, customers who directly interact with their natural environment - farmers. I currently lead the Geospatial Sciences team composed of remote sensing scientists, artificial intelligence experts, statisticians, data scientists, engineers and geospatial scientists who develop new insights from satellite imagery and machine data to help farmers better manage their operations. Leveraging traditional remote sensing techniques along with advanced machine learning, spatial modeling and cloud computing technology, we are unlocking unprecedented insights about farming that were previously difficult to identify or simply unknown. Whether it’s yield, organic matter, irrigation or disease pressure, it is incredibly exciting to watch a diverse group of scientists come together every day to help develop and lead this emerging industry of digital agriculture, which we strongly believe will both improve sustainability and help to solve global food challenges.
While there is no single technology or scientific discipline that will explain all yield variability, I am extremely passionate about the capabilities remote sensing and geospatial sciences bring to the challenge. Remotely sensed data, whether it is captured 40 feet above ground with a small drone or 600 km above Earth’s surface with a WorldView class of satellite, offers us a unique scientific lens through which we can visualize, measure and understand what is occurring on a field. Remote sensing will always provide us with a baseline on crop health and indicators of stress we can use to gather information well beyond the human eye. As satellites become increasingly more affordable to design, launch and operate, I am most excited for what is yet to come in this field. The ubiquitous nature of optical imagery is paving the way for more advanced sensors with an ever expanding array of spectral, spatial and temporal resolution. When used in concert with a data-rich digital tool like FieldView, these new sensors will continue to allow scientists and farmers to uncover insights about variability in fields.
Looking back 25 years to those long days in the jungle of Panama lugging around a GPS and soil test kit and studying how the Kuna utilized their environment - I cannot help but smile. Today my work is much more digitally advanced and larger scale, yet it’s comparable to where I started. I love my job and the work my team is leading to advance FieldView. It brings together the best of many worlds: my love of geospatial technology, the chance to work with and learn from some of the most outstanding scientists in the industry and the opportunity to interact with the best customers you could ask for.
About the author: With degrees in Environmental Management, Chemistry, Agronomy and Geography from Louisiana State University, Steven has worked for nearly twenty years in the geospatial technology and sciences industry. He's made stops in the Oil and Gas, Environmental, Hazards and Defense sectors and returned to agriculture in 2015 as the Director of Geospatial Sciences to integrate geospatial technology in Climate's digital agriculture efforts.